History and the Arts


Dr. Lesley Skousen
Social Studies

Lately I've been thinking a lot about parallels in history. As we wrap up our 9th grade history unit on ancient civilizations, the parallels among them seem especially strong. The engineering feats of the pyramids in Egypt, Central America, and the Pacific stand as shining monuments not just to powerful leaders or honored deities, but also to the strength of market economies, specialized focus, and the immeasurable endurance of countless laborers, soldiers, slaves, and servants.

At an arts school, we can examine these themes in history through more than just power. The style of architecture speaks form as well as function. Rather than memorize the names of gods and dates of stunning battles, we focus on the ability of drama to capture the heart of a culture. When studying Greece, we read dramas about war, love, justice, and heartache. Our studies were complemented by a deeper study of the Sophocles play Oedipus Rex. Combined, these classes allowed us to draw from literature, history, sociology, anthropology, and drama in order to paint a portrait of Greek values from elite to popular perspectives.

We also studied architecture, art, engineering, and related creations. In turn, they all gave us a little more information about the values and expectations of a civilization and how they changed over time. They also gave us a base for studying other civilizations: the Roman empire, with its influences and struggles, to the Mauryan and Gupta Empires of India, and into the Qin and Han Dynasties in China.

There is something very special about pairing an arts education with a rigorous college-preparatory program. The skills occupy a space of surprising overlap. My hours at the piano writing music translated so easily into hours at the library as I sought to research my dissertation in archives throughout Europe and the Caribbean. Collaborating with other musicians to play a quintet I had written has helped me plan, launch, execute, and complete countless other projects as an adult. The seamless application of arts-related discipline to creative topics across academia demonstrate the universal language of the arts in building relationships and critical thinking.

During my own years of studying piano and music composition, my mind was set aflame by detailed and inspirational academic teachers. I learned about philosophy and destiny; the relationship between music theory, foreign languages, and math; the dynamic universal suffering of human history. And it left a strong imprint on who I was becoming during my teenage years.

These classes drew me to study history as a career. Amidst a warm environment, I learned that history was not about memorizing "facts" as I had once thought (and groaned about freely). It is about passionate people, human experiences, striking innovation, and desperation. The themes our students study today in Greek drama and ancient philosophy can be found throughout history and in our world today. This connection among us all was part of my objective as a composer and it remains a fundamental part of my life as a teacher, historian, and podcaster today.

Before transferring to an arts school, I had many fine music teachers and artistic friends. However, this occasional dip into the arts pond was nothing more than a hobby when compared to the deep, swirling pool that is an arts high school. When all your friends, classmates, and teachers are practicing, researching, and learning, it brings you to a new plane of understanding. This was my experience as a student, and I see it as a teacher every day.